The Riverdale High School football team enters 2013 riding a streak of five consecutive non-losing seasons, the best stretch in the program’s 43-year history.
It’s a significant accomplishment, considering the Raiders own an all-time winning percentage of just .369.
Still, nobody throws a parade after three first-round playoff losses and back-to-back 5-5 seasons, especially when expectation exceeded achievement.
Riverdale’s out to change that equation in 2014.
“We’ve got a whole different mindset,” junior defensive back Ryan Pulley said. “We’ve got a lot of confidence. We’re looking to win the district and take it from there.”
The Raiders appear to have the talent to do just that. It starts with the return of Pulley and senior running back Byron Dean, who missed a combined 14 games in 2012 because of season-ending injuries.
“I missed almost my whole junior year; it was horrible, man,” said the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Dean, who dislocated his shoulder during last season’s first fall practice, then reinjured it in pregame warm-ups six weeks later. “It was depressing but I bounced back. I feel better than I did last year.
“I’ve got a lot of rushing to do.”
In Dean’s absence, the Raiders uncovered a gem in sophomore Van Edwards, who rushed for 1,408 yards and 13 touchdowns last year. The 5-9, 195-pound junior will team with Dean in one of the area’s best backfields.
However, don’t look for Riverdale to rely exclusively on its traditional “ground and pound” offense.
“We’re going to try and hang our hat on doing multiple things,” said Rob Hinson, who’s entering his fourth season as the Raiders’ head coach. “We have a lot of athletic ability and speed.”
That likely means more spread looks for junior quarterback Jesse Lighthall, who has a bevy of weapons, led by the explosive Pulley. The 6-1, 200-pound junior is fully recovered from the broken ankle that sidelined him for Riverdale’s final six games of 2012 and is ready to build upon the promise he showed in his shortened sophomore season.
After spending the previous two years in ultra-competitive District 6A-11, the Raiders face a similar challenge after moving up to Class 7A alongside Fort Myers, Charlotte and Port Charlotte.
“There’s only four teams in the district, but the other three are really, really solid,” Hinson said. “There’s no easy games in this district.”
Riverdale will find out early if its potential will finally equal success. The Raiders face a season-opening, four-game gauntlet against South Fort Myers, Island Coast, Dunbar and Baker. That quartet combined for a 33-11 mark in 2012.
“There’s no easing into the season for us,” Hinson said. “That first game against South, it’s not going to make or break either team’s season but the winner is going to get some momentum and the loser is going to have to bounce back.
“Those games could do a lot for our confidence. We don’t want to slip up against any of them.”